Originally published on So So Gay on 12 March 2013.
Gay characters are no strangers to soap land, though more often than not they are used for either sensationalised plots involving the ‘coming out’ of a character or, worse, for the mere titillation of a certain viewer demographic. This was certainly true for the first forays into the inclusion of gay characters in a soap. Thankfully, soaps are getting better at writing more 3-dimensional gay and lesbian characters, even if we still have a little way to go before gay characters are as frequently included as those of the town gossip, tramp and schemer.
One pleasingly popular and long-standing gay couple of recent soap history is Christian Mann and Oliver ‘Olli’ Sabel on the German soap opera Verbotene Liebe, which translates as ‘Forbidden Love’. Christian and Oliver (contracted by fans to ‘Chrolli’), undoubtedly thanks to the positive reception by audiences, have gone on to become a central and enduringly popular couple for the show. In 2011, having been on the show for around four years already, they even won the German Soap Award for Best Looking Couple, after an online vote by over 750,000 people chose them as the winner, beating 11 other couples who were all heterosexual.
The soap itself had humble beginnings, being initially based on story and character outlines from Australian soap Sons and Daughters. Since then it has gone on to develop its own identity, becoming a beacon of LGBT inclusivity on an international level, thanks to the ‘Chrolli’ storyline being uploaded to YouTube by some dedicated fans. The characters even had a Vlog spin-off during 2010 as the couple visited New York, uploading regular video updates of their trip. The actors who play Christian and Olli – Thore Schölermann and Jo Weil respectively – also did a bit of extra promo during the trip, squeezing in an interview with popular gay-news site AfterElton.
The couple may have started their journey in fairly pedestrian territory, with Christian initially being in a heterosexual relationship and then coming to terms with his feelings for Olli, but in the years since have had many plots developed for them. Their favour amongst fans has facilitated the writing team on Verbotene Liebe to flesh out their stories, giving them material that isn’t sexuality specific. There was a significant story arc covering Christian’s health issues that forced him to give up his career as a professional boxer and take up horse training instead, and more recently, Olli’s discovery that he had a half-sister who had previously been kept secret from him.
In September 2010, the couple finally got married in a particularly lovely episode, though weren’t given special treatment subsequently because of their sexuality. Indeed, much to their fans dismay, Chrolli hit the rocks in the following months, in part due to a failed adoption which left Olli devastated as he had set his heart on becoming a parent, but also because Christian had a drunken one-night stand with the manipulative Jessica who, incidentally, is played by Thore’s real-life girlfriend. While it will have pleased bisexual fans of Chrolli, many fans were annoyed that if their favourite couple was going to be disrupted by cheating it ought to have been with another man. Fan logic for you.
Nevertheless, the handsome pair did end up getting divorced though subsequently remarrying. Hey, that’s the soap world for you. Without listing every plot twist that has occurred over the couple’s ongoing run on the show, if you wish to watch a gay couple’s story unfold and evolve you would struggle to find a better one than that of Christian and Oliver. In addition to the well-rounded characters and significant stories they have been part of, what really sets them apart is their portrayal.
Beyond the introductory plot, Verbotene Liebe has never sensationalised the couple’s presence. Their relationship is treated like any other in the show, with all the surrounding cast treating them, quite rightly, in a normalised fashion, and both Christian and Olli bonding closely with male and female characters. There are, and have been, some wonderful dynamics between the couple and other characters, such as Olli’s aunt Charlie and ex and current flatmates respectively, Judith and Andi. However, what really helps take this TV couple to the next level is the acting and, in particular, the chemistry between Thore and Jo.
Outside of the soap, the two men are very good friends, happily and frequently socialising and holidaying together. The pair have explained on previous occasions that a lot of the touches and kisses are ad libs planned between them, rather than explicit stage directions. This additional layer of tenderness really gives the couple a warmth and realness that has no doubt been instrumental in placing Christian and Olli in the hearts of many fans. Whereas a gay couple’s kiss may in other soaps be written into a script as a deliberate plot device, such as prompting a homophobic reaction in a third party, Christian and Olli’s continuous and observable closeness only adds to the believability of the couple’s relationship. Both actors are in the prime of their careers, so it wouldn’t be surprising if one or both decide to leave the show in the near future, though it will be a great shame when that day comes, as it’s not every day that a gay couple gets portrayed so wonderfully and for so long on TV.
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube you can watch Christian and Olli’s storyline unfold from the very beginning.